Remember Kulcha?

LORNA KAINO is a sociologist with a particular interest in the arts. A White Gum Vallian, Dr Kaino has published in cultural development in New Zealand and the cultural history of the Japanese in the Broome pearling industry. 

I  MOVED to Fremantle in 2013, too late to enjoy what multicultural music and arts venue, Kulcha, had brought to thousands of ethnically diverse audiences and musicians.

More recently, events in Fremantle at St John’s Anglican Church and Gypsy Tapas House have given me glimpses of what might have been.

Where, I ask myself, do the people from diverse ethnic backgrounds go to play music, and where do they go to listen to it?

If I lived in Melbourne or Brisbane, I would have many more opportunities to listen to world music and, indeed, female performers of world music. For example the Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre supports many performers of diverse ethnicity. Emanating from Melbourne’s Fitzroy North, since 1989 The Boîte World Music Café (the closest equivalent to Kulcha) has presented thousands of live multicultural acoustic concerts.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have something like that in Fremantle? Well, we used to have Kulcha! Sadly, shortly after the eve of its 30th birthday in 2013, Fremantle lost this vital organisation.


Joys of Women

Kulcha helped foster the careers of acclaimed performers like Kavisha Mazzella and the Italian Womens’ Choir she started in 1989, Le Gioie Delle Donne (The Joys of the Women) and, in more recent years, the fine Seychelleois singer, Grace Barbe. Kulcha also supported countless emerging ethnic musicians who went on to perform at folk festivals.

I put this to well-known leader of the multicultural Eastwinds band, Mark Cain, who was made a life member of Kulcha barely two years before its demise. His response prompted me to write about the support and, more recently, the hurdles that he has experienced during an extraordinary musical trajectory.

For over 30 years, Cain has been a luminary in the movement facilitated through Kulcha and its precursor Cafe Folklorico (staged at the former North Perth Music Centre). These remarkable venues facilitated and inspired thousands of Australian and overseas born performers and audiences alike.

Cain’s exploration of jazz/world music fusion saw him wear many hats: performer, journo, composer, teacher, mentoring of indigenous and immigrant musicians and prolific inventor and reviver of novel wind instruments.

Pivotal to all of this is his ongoing inquiry into music that gives rise to the ever-shifting cultural landscape of Australian music. In this sense, music provides tangible and imaginative threads of connection between the wider public, thereby nurturing a sense of place in Australia. Thus it carries with it the potential to reshape or re-imagine an Australian identity.

In other words, world music is about art, ideas and crossing cultural thresholds. And Cain is one of many Australian musicians who make a difference; not only to the music scene, but to musicians who are new to this country or just finding their feet.

Kulcha supported Cain by providing a venue for performing and connecting with other like-minded musicians. This enabled his talents to expand and flourish. In return, Cain mentored newly arrived (mostly younger) musicians to sow the seeds for new and innovative expressions of world music in Fremantle that have rippled on nationally.


Cain believes multiculturalism occupies a fragile and paradoxical place in Australian society: it allows Australians to reap the benefits of a plural society; but, as we see with Pauline Hanson’s re-emergence, it can generate deep-seated suspicion. World music, he argues, can help cast aside xenophobic stereotypes, and celebrate a richer context for Australian music and cultural life.

How many musical festivals and events that Fremantle now hosts genuinely give rise to new ideas and new perceptions of the nation Australia might become? How many properly foster musicians from new immigrant communities, as Cain has tried to do with musicians who’ve come from Peru, Burundi, India, Estonia, a heap from Iran as well as others.

Clearly, Fremantle is the poorer for its loss of Kulcha. However, with a new state election beckoning next March, it is timely to advocate support for the migrant groups whose music has been such a strong force in forging Fremantle’s reputation as a tolerant, diverse, creative and engaged community.

Today we showcase Fremantle with festivals, events and eye-catching public art. But as the paint fades on its public art, and we yawn at the prospect of yet another popular music event, how are we going to reclaim Fremantle’s proud place as a hub of music, art and ideas?

What sort of structural assistance can Fremantle offer so that musicians like Cain can better provide this support? Remember Kulcha?

36 Ash Sounds 40x7

Leave a Reply